AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Gov. Greg Abbott has dispatched hundreds of medical personnel and healthcare supplies to El Paso, Lubbock and Amarillo as West Texas faces a mountain of hospitalizations from COVID-19.
The Texas Division of Emergency Management and Texas Department of State Health Services deployed two Auxiliary Medical Units to Lubbock to assist the growing hospitalizations in the region. According to Abbott’s office, more than 700 people are in the area to serve alongside hospital staff.
The hospitalization rate of COVID-19 patients to total staffed beds was 24.5% Wednesday evening in Trauma Service Area B, where Lubbock resides. It has been above the 15% threshold, set by the governor to determine business capacity, for more than three weeks.
“We’re very full,” UMC Health System marketing director Eric Finley said of hospital conditions.
Up the interstate in Amarillo, the hospitalization rate was 31.2% Wednesday evening.
“Our healthcare community is taxed beyond anything that they’ve ever been stressed before,” Amarillo’s public health director Casey Stoughton said this week during a briefing.
At local hospitals in the Texas Panhandle, another challenge has become staff quarantines. More than 100 staff at Northwest Texas Hospital are quarantining due to possible exposures, the hospital’s chief medical officer said.
“As we gain patients, we’re losing staff,” he explained. “Bad combination.”
“The numbers in the hospital are scary,” Weiss said of the rising patient numbers.
Contributing to the new state record of new daily COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, El Paso County had the most number of new confirmed cases in any county.
Some local funeral homes are bringing in refrigerated trucks to serve as mobile morgues to keep up with virus-related deaths. The hospitalization rate in El Paso was an astronomical 41.5% Wednesday evening.
State health and emergency management agencies have deployed more than 1,350 medical workers to the El Paso area, Abbott’s office shared Wednesday. An alternate care site set up in October was slated to expand from 65 to 100 beds by Friday, the governor’s office revealed. The new resources are in addition to three Air Force medical specialty teams deployed by the Department of Defense last week and six Auxiliary Medical Units from the state.
State leaders have also tapped into the state’s supply stockpile to provide masks, gloves, gowns and face shields to healthcare workers.
“The State of Texas is ensuring that our communities hit the hardest by COVID-19 have the resources and support they need to keep people safe and bring hospitalization rates back down,” Abbott said in a Wednesday statement. “We continue to work closely with local officials in El Paso and Lubbock to meet the needs of each community and mitigate the spread of this virus.”
An emerging challenge of the pandemic and growing West Texas trouble is the effect on other regions. The boost in resources for western counties is beginning to strain others east of the Caprock, according to Austin’s public health authority Dr. Mark Escott.
Escott told Travis County Commissioners on Tuesday that he has the supplies he needs, but is low on staffing.
“Why can’t we get those people,” Escott asked, rhetorically. “Because those people are in El Paso and those people are in Lubbock and Amarillo and Dallas; they’re in other states around the country who are facing substantial surge already.”
As families plan holiday gatherings, Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson encouraged them to do so safely, pleading for patience as the pandemic continues.
“Please be the leader that can step up and postpone your event, delay your event, meet virtually for a few more months, just to help control the population of sick people going into our hospitals,’ Nelson said.
Reporter Shelby Kapp contributed to this report.